Earlier this spring, Joy and I worshipped with the First Baptist Church in Walnut Ridge family. The Williams Singers were leading the morning worship service, and we try to attend worship events with the Singers whenever we can. Dr. Bob Magee had recently announced his retirement, and we wanted to share in one of the last times when he would lead the Singers in a church worship setting.
When we arrived, we were pleased to see the sanctuary at the church was almost full. What we did not know (and neither did Dr. Magee!) was that numerous Singers alumni secretly planned to come and share in this worship time with the current Williams Singers and Dr. Magee. These alums had also planned to participate in the legacy song that has been sung by countless generations of Williams Singers – “I Love You with the Love of the Lord.”
Right on cue, when the current Singers began to sing and proceeded into the congregation to greet those in attendance, the Singers alumni stood and began to sing and greet as well. During the song, all the alumni lined up to express their love and appreciation for Bob and Dolores Magee (BTW: that is the longest version of that song I have ever heard!).
As I watched this event unfold (and I confess, I was a crying “hot mess” at this point), I was impressed with two observations. First, I was deeply moved by the interaction of the Singers alumni with Dr. Magee – this wasn’t just a moment to thank him for leading a singing group. Rather, this was moment to express heartfelt gratitude for the way God had used Bob in the lives of each Singer to bring life transformation.
These alumni represented all walks and vocations of life – some alums were recent graduates – others sang for Bob many years ago. Some were showing pictures of their grandchildren to Dr. Magee – others were showing their newborn babies or small children. Some represented multi-generations of Singers alumni – I think at least three generations may have been represented (I know for certain there were a couple two generation Singers families!). Some alumni were local – others traveled from as far as South Carolina to attend. One alum left his active military duties to attend this event still wearing his military fatigues (don’t worry, he was not AWOL!).
As I reflected upon this event, a second observation dawned on me – Bob is not the only one who has had this kind of influence and legacy. Without a doubt, Dr. Magee’s 37 years of service has had a profound impact upon those he conducted in the Singers, as evidenced in the Homecoming Reunion Concert last November and in that Sunday’s worship event. But, in my brief tenure at Williams Baptist University (WBU), I have been privileged to meet other Williams “giants” whose legacies and influences were as significant and meaningful as Dr. Magee’s. Like Bob, these men and women invested their lives here over a significant period of time, and in so doing, had an equal yet unique impact in shaping the lives of their students. During my time at Williams, I have either served with or have met many saints who worked faithfully at Williams for long periods of time. These include:
Jerry Gibbens: 55 years
Joy Ring: 54 years
Jerol Swaim: 48 years
Mary Ann Smith: 46 years
Lynette Rose: 44 years
Sheri Midkiff: 42 years
Kenneth Startup: 38 years
Bob Magee: 37 years
Paul Rhodes: 35 years
Lana Rhodes: 31 years
This legacy of influence can be expanded to include generations of men and women whose investment of life and resources God used to eternally shape and transform the lives of our students, names like:
H. E. and Beatrice Williams
J. K Southerland
Fred & Nellie Savage
Jack and Martha Nicklaus
Jerol and Virginia Swaim
David and Sheri Midkiff
Walter and Mary Norvell
We stand on the shoulders of these who invested their lives in a mission of building this Campus of Christian Purpose. These men and women (and many, many others not mentioned!) unquestionably embodied the Williams Way in their service. Their investment of life made a profound difference in the lives of countless students. Their lives mattered – their lives had and continue to have consequence through their students.
Our Mission – Our People
Although many factors and issues have significant meaning and influence on our mission, the most important part of our mission is our people – the people God calls here are the most important aspect of advancing our mission. This has always been true of Williams, and by the grace of God, we pray always will be. The significance of what God is doing here is certainly evidenced by the legacy of those who served at Williams – the men and women on whose shoulders we stand.
Our mission to equip Williams Way leaders is as crucial and needful as it has ever been. God is at work on our campus, sustaining and strengthening the many outstanding faculty and staff who are already serving here as well as bringing new members of God-called and God-equipped faculty and staff to help us in our mission.
We have had, and will continue to have, challenges and trials – such is the reality of living in a fallen world and the ongoing issues confronting Christian higher education. Our ability to make a difference, to advance our mission, however, will be fulfilled through the people who serve here. Our people make the difference. From our beginning, God has blessed the school with faithful servants who have invested their lives in our noble mission. And He is continuing this blessing.
I am grateful to God my service at Williams overlapped with some incredible followers of Christ who invested most of their working lives here at Williams. I am also grateful for the privilege of working with many others who were here when I joined the WBU family and continue to serve here with excellence and faithfulness. I am likewise thankful for the new servants God is calling and equipping to join us in our Williams Way mission. Among the current and future faculty and staff are those who will one day be added to the “Williams Hall of Faith” – men and women who served the Lord here with a Christ-honoring excellence and an unwavering, tenacious longevity.
With the enthusiastic approval and support of our board of trustees to recognize his service and contributions to the University, we honored Dr. Magee at our May commencement by announcing the naming of the choral and rehearsal rooms as the Dr. Bob G. Magee Music Suite. This is a way for the WBU family to express our heartfelt gratitude and appreciation for his meaningful, lasting service and influence.
The occasion of his retirement is also a timely encouragement to us to remember with gratitude those who have gone before us and have invested their lives in this place. As we remember Dr. Magee and the many other Williams Heroes, we are challenged to continue the mission of obedient and faithful service. There is still work to be done. Those who have gone before us are the people who defined and established the Williams Way. It is now our turn.
I find encouragement and inspiration in the lives of these men and women. I see people who loved Jesus, who were called to serve here, and who did so with excellence, passion, and faithfulness. As I learn their stories and legacies, I find myself wanting to be like them, to serve as they served, to make a difference as they did. God continues to use their testimonies, their stories, their examples, and their legacies, to encourage and inspire me – and I pray He does the same for you.
That is the Williams Way!